Nicosia Dignity Centre reimagined

14/09/21

The constant need to adapt

In August 2021, we decided as an organisation to focus on short-term, essential aid. Covid had a huge impact on the people we were supporting in Cyprus and how we supported them. We were doing more and more things to fill the gaps and it was getting harder for volunteers to help.

In Nicosia over the previous 6 months, we had a steady increase in the number of people asking for food. State support has always been inadequate and hard to access but changes to the process and a painfully slow bureaucracy meant it could take months for any cash to come through.

The Dignity Centre had to change so we re-opened in September 2021 with a much more focused range of services to help more people in bigger need.

Big changes to the Dignity Centre

Our decision to focus on essentials unfortunately meant the end of showers, laundry, bike repair, hygiene packs, emergency food bags, language and computer classes, cv writing and Refumade. Some of these will be taken on by partners we are now talking to.

We can have a bigger impact at the Dignity Centre in Cyprus by doing fewer things really well.

Community Services

Signposting, photocopying, internet access were things we could continue from our reception desk.

We want Members to feel like this is their Centre so all are welcome to use basic services. Of the 2,700 Members registered about 900 are members of our WhatsApp information groups who we regularly send important information like changes in the law, job opportunities and other support services.

The office services are critical to help people prepare asylum claims, secure accommodation, open bank accounts, show Covid Passports and find jobs.

Barbering

This is such a highly valued weekly event it has remained where we have 3 members who can cut hair for 12-15 people every Friday.

A new Dignity Market

The biggest change was creating and opening the Dignity Market with highly dignified systems to manage supply and demand.

It took us 7 days to convert the classroom into a fully operational Market.

We see 25o Members a week who each can choose a basket of goods that costs us €7 each to provide.

Who do we support in the Market

We can’t offer everyone food and in any event we don’t want to. We need to target resources at those in greatest need to help them when times are at their toughest.

We are able to identify the group who are without any support by seeing the date they left the state reception centre at Pournara camp. That is where all asylum seekers have to register and then apply for cash support. When they leave Pournara Reception Centre, we know it can take 2-3 months for the cash to start coming through so we made the Dignity Market available to everyone for the 3 months after they left the camp.

We have estimated that €7 per person per week is a helpful addition to their nutritional needs and enables us to serve up to 250 people per week.

A typical basket for an individual

How does the Dignity Market work

People are invited to register for the shop and issued with a shopping card that has their Dignity Centre membership number and the expiry date for using the shop.

The shopping card is only valid for one day a week to make sure we have even numbers of customers on each day. We have a different colour card for each day to help with managing eligibility.

We print out a list of customers for that day and tick them off when they’ve shopped to help control who is using the shop. We have volunteers who may only be there 2 weeks and you will inevitably get some people who try to game the system.

Every item in the shop is priced with a number of points where €1 = 100 points and we give every adult 700 points to spend each week (every child has 350).

They choose what they want and every purchase is recorded on the Loyverse app which is free to use for some great functionality. It allows you to track what you are selling and analyse all the data from the shopping.

Why do we use a points based shop?

Everyone who has worked in one of our points-based shops knows the benefits of points based food distribution because they are so evident.

It’s dignified, offers choice and allows for a little normality. The food is critical and it helps but what we are really doing is feeding spirits.

It’s a world away from just giving people a bag of food.

Fundamentally, people are given choices and they get agency. We’ve given out pre-prepared bags of food to people and it led to a lot of arguments because everyone is an individual. They wanted to choose what went in the bag. And no-one wants to feel like they are surviving on charity handouts.

The benefits flow from that. And they are benefits that are particularly important to people who have lost their homes and at the mercy of uncaring bureaucracies.

There is more chat when families and friends shop together while they decide what to buy. This looks and feels just like normality.

People are happier and also chat more to volunteers. They’re not there just to pick up some supplies. They appreciate the efforts to make the shop look like the best shop it can be. It’s community.

Presenting choice in a beautiful, welcoming shop environment makes the relationship between volunteer and customer more equal. Instead of having to accept whatever they are being given, customers choose and volunteers are there to serve.

Everything is bought new from local businesses.

This is of course much more costly than running a shop based on donations but has some really strong advantages:

  • It is important to invest in the local economy and use that to challenge objections from local people about having refugees and asylum seekers in their community
  • Donated food is often inappropriate and it’s impossible to accurately ‘price’ items with points. It also leads to a lot of waste
  • People find consistency reassuring and it reduces arguments
  • It looks like a shop

It also makes it very clear where your money goes – €7 provides an individual with an essential basket of goods for one week.

We need you

We need volunteers to continue serving refugees and asylum seekers in Nicosia. It is hard work and it is very rewarding. You can help.